News and Business

Trevor Mkhwenazi, a Support Resource Officer (Dispatcher) at ER24’s state-of-the-art Contact Centre, talks about his role.

How did you move into your current role?

After working at the 112 division (the national emergency line for state resources such as Metro Police, the Fire Department and ambulance services), I moved to ER24 in 2017. As an Emergency Resource Officer (ERO) in the Contact Centre, I was the caller’s first point of contact. Three years later, I became an ER24 Support Resource Officer (Dispatcher) at the Contact Centre.

What is an Emergency Resource Officer’s scope of work?

An ERO is the caller’s first point of contact with ER24. You get extensive month-long training that prepares you with the system and operational knowledge required for the role. As an ERO, you assist with pre-arrival instructions, which can include telephonic CPR and other important stabilisation information prior to our crews arriving. 

You field two types of calls as an ERO:

  • Primary – from a home or scene of an accident. The caller’s age, gender, location, and extent of the injury or medical concern are some of the key information required at the outset. An algorithm then guides you with critical questions to identify the patient’s clinical state, e.g., if someone has chest pains, we’ll ask if they’re a known cardiac patient and if they have significant risk factors. Or if the patient is pregnant, we need to know if it’s premature labour. The answers inform how we triage the patient telephonically. Once the level of care is identified, the ERO is then prompted to offer pre-arrival guidance to the caller. The ER24 Support Resource Officer (or dispatcher), uses the outcome of the completed triage to assign the closest, appropriate clinical resource and vehicle to the case. This can vary from an ambulance with an Intermediate Life Support (ILS) or Advanced Life Support (ALS) paramedic; or a response vehicle.  
  • Inter-facility transfers – involve moving a patient from one facility to another, e.g., from hospital to a rehabilitation centre; or from one hospital to another with a specialised unit, particular surgeon, or advanced level of care. 

And what does your role as a dispatcher entail?

As an ER24 Support Resource Officer, I’m responsible for dispatching crews with the appropriate level of care, which is derived from the triage. I also liaise internally with the case managers, who are registered nurses, in particular when advanced pre-arrival instructions are required.

Any particular cases you remember?

We recently triaged a call where a man had been shot in the head. I immediately dispatched an ambulance with an ALS crew. When they arrived, the patient had already died – by suicide. A 12-year-old child witnessed the event, so I needed to arrange trauma counselling for the family, escalate it to the relevant people, and liaise with the police. I’m in constant communication with crews via radio, and once patients are ventilated and intubated, I need to pre-alert the hospital of their arrival. I also alert the Traffic Department and police in the case of motor vehicle accidents.

What skills and traits make you a good Support Resource Officer?

You need to be an excellent multitasker, a good listener, and be comfortable dealing with a lot of responsibility. You are making decisions for people’s lives. Staying calm is vital. Having first been an ERO definitely helped me. It taught me how to communicate effectively, how to control the call, and how to manage a distraught, panicky, or frustrated caller.

Plans for the future?

I’d love to learn more about emergency medical services (EMS), as so much happens behind the scenes. I’d like to become a paramedic, or to move into hospital coding.